They’re coming at you thick and fast, a veritable storm of fire. It’s Bolt Thrower time yet again, although there shouldn’t be too many back-to-back versions. I plan to use the opportunity to catch up on some longer-running trash culture themes that I might miss in my fortnightly snapshots.
One of the reasons I picked Commands & Colors: Ancients last week was as an introduction to this weeks’ review of Commands & Colors: Napoleonics. It owes a lot to its predecessor, including some holdovers of rules that aren’t entirely necessary, but has enough clever new stuff in it to make the play properly differentiated from other C&C series games and properly Napoleonic in feel. The trouble is, basically, there’s just too much C&C stuff now, and Napoleonics, whilst well designed, challenging, and fun feels like it falls between the depth and realism of C&C:A and the excitement and approachability of Memoir ‘44. It’s neither one thing nor the other and that’s a shame, but I feel it’s for enthusiasts only.
Currently enjoying Terry Pratchett’s Making Money. Whilst it’s full of the usual sparkle, wit and imagination I can’t help but think - and I almost feel guilty for saying this - it’s the work of an author past the peak of his powers. Everything is just a bit more obvious. The puns less clever, the plot more predictable, the characters a bit more stereotypical. Still entirely worthwhile, but vintage Pratchett this is not.
So, yes, the primary function of this new Xbox 360 so far has been to make me wish I had an HDTV. Two games so far have occupied my time. The first is XBLA download Trials Evolution which I reviewed. It’s a fantastically fun game that’s filled with thrills and spills whilst offering the dedicated gamer a challenging difficulty curve to conquer if they so wish. The second is Bioshock which, I must admit, I found slightly disappointing in the face of its exalted reputation. Its respawn model, which sees dead players simply resurrected at the nearest checkpoint, not only makes the game ridiculously easy since you can just run back repeatedly to whatever’s killing you and wear it down until it’s dead, but spoils the game’s jewel in the crown which is immersion and believability. Why is it only you that can use the checkpoints, and none of your foes?
Films & TV
I mentioned I wanted to use the back-to-back Bolt Thrower opportunity do a bit of catchup in this article and the first thing is to look at A Game of Thrones season 2 so far. I am not, it has to be said, enjoying it as much as the first series although it’s still tremendously entertaining. I like the way in which it muddies the moral waters of Westeros still further, with some unsympathetic characters (such as Cersei) displaying a more tender side, and some sympathetic characters (such as Theon) demonstrating how apparently civilized people can lose their ethical compass if the right buttons get pushed. But the whole offering seems somehow less coherent than the first series, perhaps an inevitable result of the introduction of new characters and further splintering of plot lines that probably prove easier to take in during the more involved and long-term effort of reading a book over watching the TV. One thing in particular did irk me hugely and that’s the sub-plot with Jon Snow and the Wildlings, almost entirely because the manner in which it begins is so unbelievale. We’re expected to swallow that experienced rangers would just leave a young man to kill a dangerous prisoner, to whom he’s previously shown mercy, alone and without supervision? And then that in a short time between escape and recapture the pair of them have gone so far from camp they can’t find their way back over the course of two days? Sorry, but I’m not buying that, especially given the attention paid to authenticity and realism elsewhere in the plot.
Right, catchup. We need to talk about Jim Moray.
If anyone in my eclectic musical taste would quality as a favourite artist, it’d be Jim Moray. His stock in trade is the re-arrangement of traditional folk material in a variety of fearlessly inventive and modern styles. Aside from a lot of clear influence from progressive rock and techno, he’s sampled diverse genres such as jazz, hip-hop and even rockabilly in an apparent quest to drag folk kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
Folk is, by its very nature, a conservative medium. If you’re playing and singing tunes that are two or three hundred years old, the thinking goes, you ought to be playing them in the style of two or three hundred years ago to preserve their historical value and authenticity. I hope I don’t need to point out the flaws in that logic which, of course, is partly what’s responsible for keeping traditional folk as the tiny minority interest that it currently is. Jim, thankfully, doesn’t care. His debut album opened with Early One Morning, a track that’s been reviled by old folkies ever since it was used to mercilessly lampoon traditionalists in a popular 70’s sitcom. Using it to open an album is therefore a fairly daring move. Reinventing it as a sample-heavy track with a slow techno beat, in the face of all that traditionalism, as the very first track on your very first album is pushing it to the point of foolhardiness. But it worked. While it did outrage the purists, most folk fans loved it, and it proved popular enough to turn up as a backing track in the odd TV series.
Five albums later, he’s calmed down a bit and moved a little back toward a traditional sound whilst remaining inventive on every album and showcasing a huge talent bringing the emotional impact in the material to the fore. I’m a little disappointed that his rock influences seem to have become more pronounced and the techno aspects faded a bit into the background, although he’s suggested his next album is likely to rectify that balance, as well as veering back into more experimental territory. For me, he’s at his best when he’s not just breaking the mold, but crushing it into small pieces. His career high so far in my opinion is taking the grim ballad of murder and incest Lucy Wan, setting it to a skittering trip-hop beat with a suitably menacing bassline and then inviting a grime MC to rap over the top of it alongside Jim’s singing. It’s nothing like traditional music, but it is quite stunningly atmospheric.
The selection of Mr. Moray available on Spotify is sadly limited, but here’s my top 10 out of what’s there. Otherwise you’re limited to my youtube links and his bandcamp page. Do, at least, check out Lucy Wan just to hear what the ultimate in genre-blending sounds like. But I hope you listen to some more - it’s brilliant stuff.